Texas Car Seat Laws

Happy baby sitting on her car seat for safety.

As a parent or guardian of a young child, your primary responsibility is always to keep the child safe, including when driving. To do so, you must know and follow the seat belt and car seat laws in Texas. These laws are in place to protect children and prevent them from suffering serious injuries if a car accident occurs.

Here, we provide an overview of those laws. As you will see, a child’s age, size and weight can all be factors that determine the proper restraint system for the child. If you have any questions about your legal rights if your child is hurt in an accident in Houston or surrounding areas, feel free to contact us to discuss your case.

Do Car Seat Laws Save Lives?

Seat belts and child car seats save lives. In fact, half of the teenagers and 20 to 44-year-olds in motor vehicle fatalities were not wearing seat belts at the time of the crash, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In order to entice drivers and passengers into wearing seat belts, there are strict laws pertaining to seat belt use. The same goes for child car seat usage. The laws regarding child safety seats are clear. If you are the driver, you are breaking the law if:

  • A child under the age of 5 or less than 36 inches in height is not in a child safety seat; or
  • A child younger than 17 is not wearing a seat belt

Child Fatalities and Injury Facts

Driving a motor vehicle is dangerous for people of all ages. However, for the very young it is a leading cause of death. Many small children are not properly protected by a seat belt, and an airbag can cause serious injury or death. Because of this, parents need to ensure that their child is properly restrained in a child seat and in the rear passenger seat. According to the Houston Police Department:

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death and serious injury for children over 1 year old;
  • A child under 5 years old who was unrestrained is killed every day in the United States; and
  • Children are safest in the rear seat while properly harnessed in a child seat, booster seat, or in a seat belt if they are older.
My child was in their car seat and injured in a car accident, what can I do?

Seat Belt and Car Seat Laws in Texas

Texas law generally requires anyone who is at least 15 years of age to wear a lap-and-shoulder seat belt when driving or riding in a car as a passenger. If you are caught violating this law, you could be charged with a misdemeanor and face a fine of $25 to $50. Additionally, if you are driving a car with a passenger who is younger than age 17, you must ensure that the passenger is wearing a seat belt. The failure to do so is also a misdemeanor. It carries a fine of $100 to $200.

The law serves an important safety purpose. As the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) reports, wearing a seat belt decreases one’s risk of dying in an accident by 45 percent (60 percent if riding in a pickup truck). Unfortunately, too many people fail to follow the law. In 2018 alone, 982 people who were not buckled up died in traffic crashes on the state’s streets and highways in 2018, marking a 6 percent increase from the previous year, according to TxDOT.

Additionally, under Texas law, any child who is younger than age 8 must ride in a “child passenger safety seat system” unless the child is taller than 4 feet, 9 inches. To comply with this law, the seat must be installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and it must meet federal standards that have been set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Specifically, the seat must meet FMVSS 213, which establishes the safety seat standards for children up to 80 pounds. The seat should have a sticker that indicates that it meets this standard.

A violation of the car seat law is a misdemeanor. It carries a fine of $25 to $200. However, if you can provide proof that you bought and installed a car seat in compliance with the law after you received a ticket, it can serve as a defense.

Finally, if you own a pickup truck, you should know that it is illegal to allow a child who is younger than age 18 to ride in the open bed. This is also a misdemeanor offense, which carries a fine of $25 to $200.

What Should You Look for in a Car Seat?

A car seat will be one of the most important items that you buy to protect your child if a car accident occurs. A car seat will be needed as soon as your child is born until he or she is old enough to wear a seat belt. However, you may find that it’s a challenge to find the right car seat for your child.

According to Safe Kids Worldwide and its Ultimate Car Seat Guide, you should first read the label before you buy a car seat. You want to make sure the car seat fits your child’s age, weight, and height limits.  Finally, make sure the car or booster seat fits your budget. You should also:

  • Look for a car seat that already comes with extra features such as harness straps.
  • Stay away from used car seats from garage sales, flea markets, or consignment shops. A used car seat could be broken, old, or previously involved in an accident.
  • Get a car seat with instructions from the manufacturer. Remember, car seat laws require you to follow manufacturer instructions.

The NHTSA says that parents should base their car seat on which one of the following four phases their child is in:

  • Phase 1 (rear-facing seat) – Children who are infants up to two years old should be placed in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible, or until they reach the weight and height limits for the seat.
  • Phase 2 (forward-facing seat) – When children outgrow the rear-facing safety seat, they should ride in a forward-facing safety seat with a harness for as long as possible – again, up to the upper weight or height limits for the seat. Generally, children will ride in this type of seat until they reach age 7.
  • car seats need to be installed properlyPhase 3 (booster seat) – Generally, children between the ages of 8-12 should ride in a booster seat until they have reached the appropriate level of behavior maturity. The booster seat must have a lap-and-shoulder belt.
  • Phase 4 (adult safety belt) – Once a child outgrows his or her booster seat, the child can use the adult safety belt if it fits properly.

Remember, all children younger than the age of 13 should ride in the back seat. Following these phases will be helpful in keeping your child safe in your car.

Child Ejections Because of No Seat Belt or Car Seat

You face charges of child endangerment by not properly restraining your child in your vehicle, which seems minor when you consider the risk of injury to your child. In June of 2017, a mother’s son was ejected from the vehicle because he was neither in a car seat nor wearing a seat belt. The mother had sped up to cut off a pickup truck and collided with it, however, no damage was caused and both vehicles continued driving.

A short while later, the mother sped into the fast lane on a highway, then cut back over to a slower lane and hit the same truck again, and this time her car flipped over, ejecting her child. The mother faces child endangerment charges, according to Chron.com. Ejections from a vehicle are often fatal.

Child Seat Sizing and Type Guidelines

There are four typical kinds of child seats. These include rear-facing car seats, booster seats, convertible car seats, or three-in-one seats that can also function as booster seats. We strongly suggest that parents consider the following advice for young children riding in a motor vehicle:

  • If the child is less than 2 years old, use a rear-facing seat and never put the child and child seat in the front seat, particularly where a passenger airbag is present;
  • 2 to 4-year-olds should use a front-facing car seat; and
  • Children 4 years old and older, or children who weigh 40 pounds or more, should use a booster seat with a harness.

How to Keep Your Child Safe While Riding in a Car

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 59% of car seats are either used, installed, or secured incorrectly. It may seem to you that car seats should be easy to install, but a statistic like this shows that they are not as easy as one may believe. Another issue is that it becomes easy to start being lazy with the process, especially if you find that you are moving a car seat from one car to another frequently. However, an improperly secured or fitted car seat is essentially like not using a car seat at all, which can have fatal consequences in a car accident.

The Basics of Installing a Car Seat Properly

car seats need to be installed properlyTo understand how to install a car seat in your car or someone else’s, you need to remember that vehicles are equipped with lower anchors and tether anchors. As a parent, you should learn how to locate these in different types of vehicles that you might use or that your child may ride in. Rear-facing car seats typically use lower anchors only, according to The Car Seat Lady, while front-facing car seats use the lower anchors and the tether anchor.

Purchasing a Car Seat

You must select a seat that is right for your child based on published guidelines. Rear-facing seats should be used for younger children and front-facing or booster seats are acceptable for older children. It is important to do your research before you buy. Remember to look into the manufacturer’s history and the model of the car seat. You can find reviews online and information about recalls.

However, do not buy a used seat or take one from someone you do not know well. Generally speaking, if someone has been in an accident with a child in a car seat, the car seat needs to be replaced or inspected by someone at your local fire department or car dealership. Moreover, all car seats have an expiration date. So, if you have a number of children and continue to use car seats or have a used one from a family member or friend, make sure to check the date.

I was in a car accident and the lower anchors broke. What should I do?

Register With the Manufacturer After Purchasing a Car Seat

Diono, a company that manufactures car seats, is doing the right thing. They found a defect in their design; the belt that secures the child at the child’s chest had no padding, according to Click2Houston. The NHTSA has warned that securing a child with only a belt can result in chest injuries during an accident. This is evidence of why parents should always register with the manufacturer after purchasing a car seat.

Our Houston Child Injury Lawyers Are Here for You

Unfortunately, no matter how safe you are, you cannot control what others do on the road. If your child suffers injuries in a car accident due to another driver’s negligence, contact Fleming Law. We will provide the highly personalized service and aggressive legal representation that you and your family deserve. We have decades of experience with helping those injured in car accidents in Houston and throughout Texas, including child injury victims. We will be by your side every step of the way. Contact us online or call our Houston office today for a timely and free consultation.

Brendan Fleming - attorney

Brendan received his JD from South Texas College of Law and his MBA from Baylor University. He then began his legal career as in-house counsel for a publicly-traded company, advising on matters such as mergers and acquisitions, securities, compliance, and general corporate transactions. He then worked at a national law firm in which he represented commercial banks, private equity firms, and business owners in complex transactions before joining Fleming Law, Brendan uses his considerable knowledge of business-related matters by working on cases involving business law, real estate law, and contracts. Connect with me on LinkedIn